How We Choose Our Wine

  in Blog

By Clint Mitchell, Oryana Wine & Beer Buyer

One of the questions I am asked most often is how I choose the wines we sell. It’s a good question, as my buying guidelines are a little looser than the rest of the store. While I do try to keep a pretty good selection of organic and locally produced wines, those criteria are not as prioritized in this department as they are in other areas of the store.

What I’m looking for are wines that over-deliver and hit on a wide mix of tastes and regions. Simply put, it boils down to price, taste, value and variety. I want a $12 wine that tastes like $15, a $15 wine to taste like $20, and so on. And I want them from all over the world.

With so many wines to choose from, how do I do this?

Number one is taste. If I taste a wine, and the quality of the wine exceeds the price, I’ll bring it in. If it doesn’t, I won’t. 

Second — professional ratings. I can’t taste every wine I sell, and sometimes need to trust one of a handful of wine-tasters whose ratings I value, whether it be Wine spectator, Robert Parker or James Suckling. These are reviewers I’ve turned to for better than 20 years. Lastly is a winery’s reputation. Wineries and winemakers who’ve been around the block, and always make quality wines, even when weather doesn’t cooperate.

Beyond that, I look to broaden areas of the wine selection by region, flavor profile and price. While we do have some higher end wines for that special occasion, our wheelhouse is $10-$20 — wines for any occasion.

Here are some standouts on the shelf now:

2015 Parducci Cabernet, California; $10.99. Full-throated Cabernet. Surprisingly age-worthy at this price point, but delicious now, with dense, chewy dark fruit flavors that coat the palate. A long, smooth finish keeps you coming back for more. The price is right as a cocktail wine, but you can’t go wrong alongside a grilled steak either.

2014 Shady Lane Semi-Dry Riesling, Leelanau; $14.99. The vintage threw me on this one at first. A local, 4-year-old Riesling? But this wine was built to last beyond its first few years in the bottle. Deliciously fresh and fruity on the palate, with just enough zing to keep the sweetness in check. The pear and citrus flavors are ideal for a salad, or light, flaky fish.

2014 Babich Black Label Pinot Noir, New Zealand; $19.99. Wow! Floral aromas and red berry flavors overwhelm the senses. This is a complex wine, with a lingering finish that throws a lot at you (you’ll want to savor every bit of it). Tastes like twice the price.  A perfect match for salmon, grilled pork chops or spice-rubbed chicken.

2015 L’ecole Syrah, Washington; $24.99. A big, bold wine in every way. Full-bodied flavors of dark fruit and spice, and a long, lingering finish. Just a beauty of a wine that begs for grilled or roasted red meat. Columbia Valley’s been producing some of the finest Syrah in the world, and this one’s no different.

2013 Leviathan, Cabernet Blend; $39.99 — It might be hard to believe a $40 wine is a “bargain,” but this one’s been a favorite of mine since it’s first release a little more than 10 years ago. A side project started by renowned winemaker Andy Erickson — at the time, the winemaker for pricey cult Cab “Screaming Eagle” — it’s a full-time endeavor now, with a blend of red grapes from some of Northern California’s finest vineyards. Generally heaviest on Cabernet Sauvignon, with a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Cab Franc, the exact proportion depends on each year’s harvest. The fruit shines through when it’s young, but this wine’s built to age, too. Worth the splurge.